Three years ago, Philip Rivers told somebody to hold his Pepsi. He went onto the dance floor at a playoff game in Baltimore.
Rivers, whose feet were his least functional collection of cells, somehow slithered his way for a 9-yard gain on third-and-eight. As the Chargers whooped and as San Diego blinked, Rivers stood there for a second and then gave the first down sign, the way the real runners do, dozens of times on an NFL weekend. It was far rarer than a pitcher hitting a home run. Funnier, too.
Rivers is now retired, followed at some point by quarterbacks like him. Where he was pointing was the future.
On Monday night the Rams will run Matthew Stafford out there against the Cardinals in a playoff game, and Arizona will counter with Kyler Murray.
On some days Stafford is a better quarterback than Murray. But there are more Murrays on the way than Staffords.
A quarterback running with intent is the most exciting, and maybe the most ironic, part of what the NFL has become.
Stafford has rushed 377 times for 1,241 yards in 13 years of NFL duty. In Murray's three years his legs have covered 1,786 yards, at 5.7 per pop, and scored 20 touchdowns.
Of the top 11 rushing QBs in league history, four are still playing: Cam Newton (2nd), Russell Wilson (4th), Lamar Jackson (7th) and Aaron Rodgers (11th).
The yardage leader is Michael Vick, who led the league in yards-per-carry four times and had 6,109 yards, but Randall Cunningham is third with 4,928 yards. He was one of the first who was not running to escape anything. Philadelphia coach Buddy Ryan broke him in by using him on third downs. A league-wide light went on.
Steve Young ran for 43 touchdowns and 4,239 yards in 15 touchdowns and proved you could be Super that way.
Contrast it with Rivers (601 yards), Dan Fouts (476), Tom Brady (1,124), Dan Marino (87), Brett Favre (1,844), John Unitas (1,777), Phil Simms (1,252) and Len Dawson (1,293).
There were pioneers. Tobin Rote won NFL and AFL championships — with the Lions and Chargers, no less — and played in a Grey Cup final, and remains 12th on the rush list. He had a 100-yard rushing game and ran for 11 TDs in 1956.
Chicago's Bobby Douglas threw lefty javelins that pierced receivers in practice, and in 91 NFL games he chucked 36 TDs with 64 interceptions and went 16-36-1 as a starter. But he also stomped his way to 2,654 rushing yards, many on called plays, and is still 15th on the list.
Today, almost everyone can run. Some run when they must, like Rodgers, Patrick Mahomes, Justin Herbert and Joe Burrow. Some run when they wish, like Josh Allen, Lamar Jackson and Jalen Hurts.
But when they do run, there are no fainting spells on the executive levels, even though these quarterbacks are far more expensive and valuable than ever. The rewards have outweighed their risks.
Most have proven that passers can run and runners can pass. The threat is important because it forces defenses to play zone, so the DBs can lay eyes on the quarterbacks instead of turning their backs to play man-to-man. But when they do play zone, it makes completions easier, which is why pass completion percentage has skyrocketed.
Now, Murray might run some plays from empty backfields. A fast, drooling edge rusher sees it as a green light. But if he charges too hard, Murray will disappear. If defenses play a "spy" against Murray, with no other responsibility, they lose a pass rusher or a cover guy. The running QB always has the math on his side.
Allen came from Wyoming with astonishing velocity but shaky command. He was also 6-foot-4 ⅞ and 236 pounds and ran a 4.62 40. There is no better illustration of how a quarterback can levitate a franchise.
Buffalo is in the playoffs for the third consecutive year. It hadn't done that in 29 years. On Saturday the Bills became the first team in NFL playoff history to play a game without a field goal, a punt, and a turnover and wiped out New England, 47-17 .
Only Nick Chubb, in that 2018 draft, has run for more TDs (36-31) than Allen, who also has 102 touchdown passes, 11 more than first-overall pick Baker Mayfield.
It's true that a pocket-bound passer usually wins the Super Bowl. That passer is normally Tom Brady. The Rams think Stafford can do that, too, but the hands of time are on the side of Murray's feet.
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